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by Kevin Coupe

I may regret this, but I'm going to wade into the Peloton controversy.

As you may know, Peloton managed to generate a ton of social media controversy last week when it released a commercial for its highly expensive stationary bike. Titled "The Gift That Gives Back," the commercial (which you can see at left) showed what happens when a man gives his wife a Peloton bike for Christmas, and she records many of her exercise sessions over the following year - sometimes frustrated, sometimes terrified of the commitment, sometimes tired, but always working hard to get in/stay in shape. At the end of the year, she presents a video of the sessions to her husband, saying that she "didn’t realize how much this would change me."

The backlash was broad and immediate. Many people believed that the commercial was pushing unrealistic expectations about body image, especially considering that the wife and mother portrayed by actress Monica Ruiz already looks to be in pretty great shape. The "husband" in the ad was denounced online as a miscreant - he's never shown on the Peloton equipment. And not only was Peloton denounced on social media, but it got a number of references on last week's "Saturday Night Live." (Perhaps my favorite joke was when "Weekend Update" co-anchor Colin Jost said, “At least they decided against using the slogan ‘Peloton: You’d better keep it tighter than the babysitter.’”)

I have to be honest here - I was gobsmacked by the contretemps.

When I watched the commercial, I didn't see all the stuff that the detractors saw. I saw a guy giving his wife a piece of exercise equipment that cost more than two grand, and that over a year, she developed a commitment to physical fitness and an understanding of the discipline it requires. (As someone who jogs four miles a day five days a week, I get it - I've been jogging for 45+ years, and I still struggle with the commitment and discipline. And I'm frustrated - I don't understand why it doesn't get any easier.)

Now, maybe I didn't get it because I'm a guy and perhaps even a budding miscreant.

So I checked with our own Kate McMahon, and she told me she thought it was all much ado about nothing.

Then I checked my daughter, Allison, and she told me that if I'd like to get her a Peloton for Christmas, she promised not to be offended.

Mrs. Content Guy told me that she thought it would've been wise of Peloton to produce a similar commercial featuring a different couple in which the woman gave her husband a Peloton, and he went through a similarly themed experience. I agree with her - it would've been smart to do that. And then Mrs. Content Guy told me that like our daughter, she wouldn't be offended if I got her a Peloton for Christmas.

Kevin Cullen, the Boston Globe columnist, judged the Peloton commercial "majestically stupid" (which strikes me as a little hyperbolic), but then wrote something with which I totally agreed - that this is hardly the most offensive commercial on TV: "There is, for example, that one where a woman scores a pair of matching trinkets on Black Friday and her husband upstages her by buying a pair of matching, fully loaded GMC pickup trucks worth almost $100,000. When the little lady says she likes the blue one, which he had intended to give himself, the husband gallantly agrees to settle for the red one. What a guy."

But in so many ways, the best response to the Peloton commercial came from actor Ryan Reynolds, who has evolved into a canny marketer with a taste for irony that builds on his Deadpool persona.

Reynolds, seeing the backlash, moved with the kind of alacrity that every marketer should attempt. Reynolds is a co-owner of an entertainment and marketing company, Maximum Effort Productions, and also owns a stake in Aviation gin. He reached out to Monica Ruiz, who had been in the Peloton commercial, and offered her a new job - appearing in a commercial for Aviation that takes advantage of the Peloton controversy while managing to be very funny and brand-centric. They hired her on Wednesday, shot the commercial on Friday for less than $100,000 … and had it on the internet on Friday night. (You can see it above left.)

“Ads are generally disposable pieces of content,” Reynolds tells the New York Times. “If you’re going to do something like this, you have to jump on the zeitgeist-y moment as it happens.”

It seems to me that there are a lot of Eye-Opening lessons here. One is that no matter what you do these days, somebody is going to have a gripe. Some of those gripes may be legitimate, no matter what your motivations.

I'd be curious to know how many women were involved with the production of the original Peloton commercial. Did nobody ask, "Are we sending the right message here/"

Finally, you have to be ready to move fast in this environment. If Peloton had been more nimble, it might've quickly produced the kind of commercial suggested by Mrs. Content Guy, and that might've tamped down on the controversy.

Maybe Peloton needs to hire Ryan Reynolds, who has shown a real talent for self-deprecation.


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